A civilian hiring freeze has opened more than 800 job vacancies nationwide that the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center has been unable to fill because of sequestration, a top Air Force commander said.
Lt. Gen. C.D. Moore, AFLCMC commander headquartered at Wright-Patterson, which has 150 openings, said the number of unfilled positions has “actually been growing because of the hiring freeze” and “puts greater stress” on workers still on the job.
Sequestration, or automatic budget cuts, could send about 12,000 of the center’s civilian employees home on unpaid furloughs for one day a week for 22 weeks. The lost productivity would equal 2.7 million hours and hit every program, he said. The center, which manages the acquisition, maintenance and sustainment of most Air Force weapons systems, has a workforce of about 26,000 people around the world.
In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, the three-star general talked about the impact of sequestration on maintaining and modernizing an aging fleet, and civilian employees, and a goal to reduce acquisition and maintenance “cycle times” by 20 to 30 percent.
While the Air Force attempts to buy new planes, a 10 percent rise in aircraft maintenance costs per unit the last three years has drawn money away from modernization, Moore said. The average Air Force aircraft is 25 years old.
In the interim, the Air Force has tried to keep old planes flying longer. The service branch will extend the lifespan of the A-10 ground attack jet and the F-16 fighter until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can take over those roles in large numbers. The Air Force will replace the wings on the 1970s-era A-10s, and F-16s will receive “a number of structural upgrades,” he said.
Still, he said, even as the fleet ages it’s typically less expensive to keep an older aircraft flying than absorb the expense of a new aircraft. Air Force leaders have expected sequestration will cause a years-long maintenance backlog at aircraft depots, however.
“It’s kind of a two-edge sword where we are delaying modernization and we’re impacting the sustainment of older systems under sequestration,” Moore said.
The full effect of sequestration isn’t yet known. Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said congressional legislation passed last week gives the Defense Department more flexibility on spending cuts, but sequestration will still lop off about 9 percent across the board, except for military pay.
Under the latest legislation, Congressional lawmakers set aside $10 billion for maintenance and operations in the military. The Pentagon delayed sending out furlough notices last Friday, and won’t until April 5, to allow time to review how the spending legislation, signed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, will affect the budget.
About 13,000 Wright-Patterson civilian employees face furlough notices in the days ahead.
“This does not eliminate the need for furloughs, but it will likely reduce the number of days civilian employees are furloughed,” Harrison said.
Along with modernization and acquisition, Moore said he’s concerned how deep budget cuts will hit the repair and replacement of infrastructure and how it will affect employee training and morale.
“When we talk about furloughing and causing a 20 percent reduction in pay over a six-month period for our government civilians, I think that may cause people to start to question whether they are valued,” he said. “We work on state-of-the-art systems and we need the best and brightest.”
The Life Cycle Management Center consolidated the former Aeronautical Systems Center, electronics, armaments and foreign military sales programs. The center has employees at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., Gunter Annex at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, among other places at 77 locations worldwide.
Realigned priorities have led to a “geo-agnostic” attitude “without zip codes” that doesn’t consider where a program is located or where someone works but with attention on missions, Moore said. The center has focused on the key tenets of speed with discipline in weapons development and product support, unity of purpose and building trust and confidence, the general said.
“Not all acquisition and product support responsibilities are created equal and I understand that there are often criticisms of how we do our business, but I will tell you that there are ample opportunities for us to get better and I believe that we have an organization right now that’s going to facilitate that,” he said.